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WHAT THE OLD MAN DOES IS RIGHT

 

I will tell you a story which was told to me when I was a little boyEvery time I thought of the storyit seemed to me to become more and more charmingfor it is with stories as it is with many peoplethey become better as they grow older

I take it for granted that you have been in the countryand seen a very old farm-house with a thatched roofand mosses and small plants growing wild upon the thatchThere is a stork's nest on the summit of the gablefor we can't do without the storkThe walls of the house are slopingand the windows are lowand only one of the latter is made so that it will openThe baking-oven sticks out of the wall like a little fat bodyThe elder tree hangs over the palingwhere there is a little pool of water with a duck or ducklingsright under the gnarled willow treeThere is a yard dog toowho barks at all comers

Just such a farm-house stood out in the countryand in this house dwelt an old couplea peasant and his wifeSmall as was their propertythere was one article among it that they could do withouta horsewhich made a living out of the grass it found by the side of the high roadThe old peasant rode into the town on this horseand often his neighbors borrowed it from himand rendered the old couple some service in return for the loan of itBut they thought it would be best if they sold the horseor ex-changed it for something that might be more useful to themBut what might this something be

You'll know that bestold man,”said the wife.“It is fair-day todayso ride into townand get rid of the horse for moneyor make a good exchangewhichever you do will be right to meRide off to the fair.”

And she fastened his neckerchief for himfor she could do that better than he couldand she tied it in a double bowfor she could do that very prettilyThen she brushed his hat round and round with the palm of her handand gave him a kissSo he rode away upon the horse that was to be sold or to be bartered for something elseYesthe old man knew what he was about

The sun shone hotand not a cloud was to be seen in the skyThe road was very dustyfor many people who were all bound for the fair were drivingor ridingor walking upon itThere was no shelter anywhere from the sunbeams

Among the resta man was trudging alongand driving a cow to the fairThe cow was as beautiful a creature as any cow can be

She gives good milkI'm suresaid the peasant.“That would be a very good exchangethe cow for the horse.”

Halloyou there with the cow!”he said.“Shall we two not talk a little togetherI tell you whatI fancy a horse costs more than a cowbut I don't mind thata cow would be more useful to meIf you likewe'll exchange.”

To be sure I will,”said the manand they exchanged accrdingly

So that was settledand the peasant might have turned backfor he had done the business he came to dobut as he had once made up his mind to go to the fairhe determined to proceedmerely to have a look at itand so he went on to the town with his cow

Leading the animalhe strode sturdily onand after a short timehe overtook a man who was driving a sheepIt was a good fat sheepwith a fine fleece on its back

I should like to have that fellow,”said our peasant to himself.“He would find plenty of grass by our palingsand in the winter we could keep him in the room with usPerhaps it would be more practical to have a sheep instead of a cowShall we exchange?”

The man with the sheep was quite readyand the bargain was struckSo our peasant wenton in the high road with his sheep

Beside a stile he saw another mancarrying a great goose under his arm

That's a heavy thing you have thereIt has plenty of feathers and plenty of fatand would look well tied to a stringand paddling in the water at our placeThat would be something for my old woman to collect peelings forHow often she has said,‘If we only had a goose!’Now she can have oneand it shall be hersShall we ex-changeI'll give you my sheep for your gooseand thank you into the bargain.”

The other man had not the least objectionand accordingly they exchangedand our peasant got the goose

By this time he was very near the townThe crowd on the high road became greater and greaterthere was quite a crush of men and cattleThey walked in the roadand close by the ditchand at the barrier they even walked into the toll-man's potato-fieldwhere his own fowl was strutting about with a string to its leglest it should take fright at the crowdand stray awayand so be lostThis fowl had short tail-feathersand winked with both its eyesand looked very well.“Cluckcluck!”said the fowlWhat it thought when it said this I cannot tell youbut directly our good man saw ithe thought,“That's the finest fowl I've ever seen in my lifeWhyit's finer than our parson's brood henOn my wordI should like to have that fowlA fowl can always find a grain or twoand can almost keep itselfI think it would be a good exchange if I could get that for my goose.”

Shall we exchangehe asked the toll-taker

Exchange!”repeated the man;“wellthat would not be a bad thing.”

And so they exchangedthe toll-man at the barrier kept the gooseand the peasant carried away the fowl

Nowhe had done a good deal of business on his way to the fairand he was hot and tiredHe wanted something to eatand a glass of brandy to drinkand soon he was in front of the innHe was just about to step inwhen the ostler came outso they met at the doorThe ostler was carrying a sack

What have you in that sack?”asked the peasant

Rotten apples,”answered the ostler;“a whole sackful for the pigs.”

Whythat's a terrible quantityI should like my old woman at home to see that sightLast year the old tree by the turf-house only bore a single appleand we kept it in the cupboard till it was quite rotten and spoiled.‘It was always property'my old woman saidbut here she could see a quantity of propertyYesI shall be glad to show them to her.”

What will you give me for the sackful?”asked the ostler

What will I giveI will give my fowl in exchange.”

And he gave the fowl accordinglyand received the appleswhich he carried into the guest-roomHe leaned the sack carefully by the stoveand then went to the tableBut the stove was hothe had not thought of thatMany guests were presenthorse-dealerscattle-dealersand two Englishmenand they are so rich that their pockets are bursting with gold coinsand they could bettooas you shall hear

Hiss-s-sHiss-s-sWhat was that by the stoveThe apples were beginning to roast

What is that?”

Wellthey soon got to know thatand the whole story of the horse that he had changed for a cowand all the rest of itdown to the apples

Wellyour old woman will give it you well when you get home!”said one of the two Englishmen.“There will be a disturbance.”

I will get a kiss and not a pounding,”said the peasant.“My wife will say,‘ What the old man does is always right.’”

Shall we wager?”said the Englishman.“We'll wager coined gold by the bushela hundred pounds to the hundredweight!”

A bushel will be enough,”replied the peasant.“I can only set the bushel of apples against itand I'll throw myself and my old woman into the bargainand I fancy that's piling up the measure.”

Donetaken!”

And the bet was madeThe host's carriage came upand the Englishmen got inand the peasant got inaway they wentand soon they stopped before the peasant's hut

Good eveningold woman.”

Good eveningold man.”

I've made the exchange.”

Yesyou understand what you're about,”said the woman

And she embraced himand forgot both the sack and the strangers

I got a cow in exchange for the horse,”said he

Heaven be thanked for the milk!”said she.“Now we shall have milk-foodand butter and cheese on the tableThat was a most capital exchange!”

Yesbut I changed the cow for a sheep.”

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Ahthat's better still!”cried the wife.“You always think of everythingwe have just pasture enough for a sheepEwe's milk and cheeseand woollen jackets and stockingsThe cow cannot give thoseand her hairs will only come offHow you think of everything!”

But I changed away the sheep for a goose.”

Then this year we shall really have a Martinmas goose to eatmy dear old manYou are always thinking of something to give me pleasureHow charming that isWe can let the goose walk about with a string to her legand she'll grow fatter still before Martinmas.”

But I gave away the goose for a fowl,”said the man

A fowlThat was a good exchange!”replied the woman.“The fowl will lay eggs and hatch themand we shall have chickenswe shall have a whole poultry-yardOhthat's just what I was wishing for.”

Yesbut I exchanged the fowl for a sack of rotten apples.”

What!—I must positively kiss you for that,”exclaimed the wife.“My deargood husbandNow I'll tell you somethingDo you knowyou had hardly left me this morning before I began thinking how I could give you something very nice this eveningI thought it should be pancakes with savoury herbsI had the eggsbut I wanted herbsSo I went over to the schoolmaster'sthey have herbs thereI knowbut the school mistress is a mean womanI begged her to lend me a handful of herbs.‘Lend'she answered me;‘nothing at all grows in our gardennot even a rotten appleI could not even lend you that.’But now I can lend her tenor a whole sackfulthat makes me laugh!”And with that she gave him a sounding kiss

I like that!”exclaimed both the Englishmen together.“Always going down-hilland always merrythat's worth the money.”

So they paid a hundredweight of gold to the peas-antwho was not scoldedbut kissed

Yesit always payswhen the wife sees and al-ways asserts that her husband knows bestand that whatever he does is right

You seethat is my storyI heard it when I was a childand now you have heard it tooand know that What the old man does is always right.”

 


 

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